Monday, January 7, 2013

Let the walking begin!

Rise and shine! Time for breakfast! Each hotel provided breakfast and I was a little skeptical. The joke is that Italian breakfast is coffee and a cigarette. But the buffet at the hotel was more than adequate. There were even eggs! They were kind of cold, but I didn't really mind. Better than cornflakes is what I say.

Giacomo, from the tour company, picked us up promptly at 9 a.m. Very friendly, and I of course recognized him from the photo in my Budget Travel magazine (which is how this whole crazy trip got started in the first place). Once everything was loaded in the car, we headed to Montalcino, which was about a 45 minute drive (I think...I don't quite remember).

The car ride was the first real views I'd had of Tuscany up close. It was absolutely beautiful. Giacomo pointed out some sights, told us a little about how the landscape looks different in different seasons, shared some of his own travel stories. I also had with me a little packet of information he had provided: a map, cellphone, several little books - one with walking directions, one with descriptions of the walks, and one with general information, including how to avoid vipers and crazy sheep dogs. I was really impressed. Everything was so well thought out. Do I sound like a Trip Advisor review yet?

Giacomo informed us that the hotel we should have stayed at was closed for upkeep, what with it being the off-season and all, so we would be staying at the nicer hotel. Well, fantastic! When we arrived, our room was not quite ready. We were given a choice to either take a smaller room, or wait about 20 minutes for the larger room to be ready. In the meantime, we could wait on the veranda or inside.


We opted to sit outside. Giacomo went over a few logistics with us and then he left for the day. The receptionist brought us each a cappuccino and we enjoyed this view for about the next hour while we read, pondered where we would get lunch, and generally marveled at our good fortune to be in such a beautiful place.


We had the corner room on the second floor. In addition to being quite large, we had a room with a view. Actually, a room with several views. Event the bathroom had a view. We were here for two nights. Our walk today was a warm-up walk...3.5 miles in a little loop through the vineyards around Montalcino.

 

Here is Montalcino. Cute, isn't it. Tiny too. I knew these towns were going to be small, but I was surprised when reached the bell tower in under 5 minutes. But, I will say this. I loved Montalcino. It was so lovely. The people were so friendly. Good restaurants, pleasant little shops. Before we left to start our walk, David asked the receptionist for restaurant recommendations (all in Italian...I was so proud). She suggested reservations, so we stopped at one place on the way and took care of that.

Then we needed lunch. We wound up at this tiny little pizza place. The pizza was sold by weight. While we were in there, an impossibly attractive American or Canadian couple came in. Actually, they weren't that attractive, but they definitely had that whole "we are so cool and hip" vibe going on. And me in my orange rain coat. I believe though, that my afternoon was superior to theirs. But we'll get to that in a moment.

First, the pizza. Served on a paper plate and eaten standing up, it was the most amazing pizza. David got ham and potato. Mine had artichoke, tomato, and basil. I have no idea what this place was called, but if I ever get back to Montalcino, I'll be sure to stop there.


So, finally...we are on the way for our walk! And this is what we saw:


And this:


And more:


See at the top of the hill? That is Montalcino. Eventually, we're going to have to walk back up there. That, I suspect, will not be so easy. Partway back up the hill we stopped for a little snack - those weird cookie things we had bought in Florence.

We also made friends with a horse. The weather was perfect, as you can see. Not a cloud in the sky. We started out with jackets, but quickly warmed up. Eventually David had to roll his pants up. It was much warmer than I thought it would be.


It was spectacularly beautiful. It was also very steep. See! 15% grade.


Montalcino is known for their wine, Brunello. Before we left on our trip, one of David's coworkers told him about this wine and that it would make his eyeballs roll back in his head, it was that good. As we did out little loop, we were walking past many Brunello vineyards. By the time we got back to Montalcino, we figured we should try some!


There are lots of places you can taste wines in Montalcino....try a few glasses, have some snacks. We just headed to the enoteca in the fortress, Enoteca la Fortezza di Montalcino. For a few euro we could head up to the top of the fortress and look out over Montalcino, and when we were done with that, we tasted some Brunello and had some crostini with some sort of pate. Very good.


Rick Steves says that wine snobs turn up their noses at this place, and quite a few people on Trip Advisor say it is overpriced, and they are probably right. But, the man who helped us was very nice and knew what he was talking about. The wine was good, my crostini was yummy. It was really a nice way to spend part of the afternoon.


Well, now it was time to head back to our hotel, get ready for dinner. What would my shower horror story be today? Uh...I couldn't figure out how to get the light by the shower turned on, so I wound up showering in the dark. It was great.

For dinner, we headed to Re di Macchia. We needn't have made reservations. There was only one other couple while we were there. Such is the off-season in Italy! You can see one half of the other couple over there. This was a charming little place, run by a husband and wife. He served us...I assume she was in the kitchen making the food. Antonio helped us pick out a lovely wine...you can also see the bread. I almost never ate the bread they brought, anywhere we went. It just wasn't that good.


So, we started off with some appetizers. I got some sort of combo plate...there were crostini with different toppings (so good...oh my) and of course various cured meats. I was a little shocked at how much food there was there. David got the Bruschetta. I'm not really sure what they do differently with Bruschetta in Italy, but it was always amazing.


Wild boar was in season, so I went with a pasta for my main dish. This was the pinci with Ragi di Chingiale (wild boar ragu). This was pretty amazing. I'm sure Roberta made this from scratch. David had beef that had been braised in Brunello wince sauce and came with spinach and potatoes. It was a little unusual that his came with a side dish, as most main courses do not.


We of course had dessert, which was some kind of cake. It is pretty, isn't it? I really don't remember what it was.


Then it was back to our little hotel. It was quiet in Montalcino, and I am pretty sure we were one of only two groups at the hotel. The next day would be our first longer walk...seven miles.

I leave you with this...it is a hair dryer. Kind of looks like a vacuum for your head.


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